NYT: First Amendment Is 'Barrier' to Democracy-Saving Censorship by Big Tech

February 13th, 2023 9:29 PM

New York Times reporter Steven Lee Myers -- a journalist -- nevertheless sees free speech as a threat to whatever a Democratic administration declares "disinformation." In a front-page article Friday, featuring the online title “Free Speech vs. Disinformation Comes to a Head,” Myers suggested democracy could fall without Big Tech exercising proper censorship of views that make liberal reporters uncomfortable.

In July 2021, as Covid-19 cases began to surge again, the surgeon general warned that misinformation had led to “avoidable illnesses and death” and urged the nation’s social media giants to do more to fight the sources of it.

“We’re asking them to operate with greater transparency and accountability,” the official, Dr. Vivek Murthy, said at the White House.

Facebook’s vice president of global affairs, Nick Clegg, responded days later, sounding aggrieved. “It’s not great to be accused of killing people,” Mr. Clegg testily wrote in a private text message to Dr. Murthy.

(Reason magazine added the context Myers left out about the supposedly “testy” exchange.)

The platform nonetheless announced a series of new policies and took down 17 accounts linked to the “Disinformation Dozen,” a disparate group of people who shared an estimated 65 percent of all anti-vaccination content online.

That exchange -- one of dozens between officials and executives at Facebook, Google, Twitter and other social media companies that have spilled into public -- is at the heart of a partisan legal battle that could disrupt the Biden administration’s already struggling efforts to combat disinformation.

A “partisan” battle otherwise known as strengthening free expression online. Yes, this Times journalist suggested the First Amendment -- the one that protects Americans’ right to free expression and a free press and makes his job secure -- may be killing “democracy itself.” He also ludicrously denied Twitter was ever biased against conservatives.

The outcome could help decide whether the First Amendment has become, for better or worse, a barrier to virtually any government efforts to stifle a problem that, in the case of a pandemic, threatens public health and, in the case of the integrity of elections, even democracy itself…. Their claims reflect a narrative that has taken root among conservatives that the nation’s social media companies have joined with government officials to discriminate against them, despite evidence showing the contrary -- in Twitter’s case, for example, from its own study in 2021 of how political accounts were promoted.

No evidence? NewsBusters would beg to differ, having compiled years of anti-conservative censorship examples from Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and other platforms. It’s no surprise Myers was a fan of Biden’s shuttered, Orwellian-sounding Disinformation Governance Board. He also knows what's "dangerous" to society, evidently.

Myers takes the ample evidence of social media censorship of opposing views on COVID vaccines, masking, transgender issues, Hunter Biden laptops, etc., no more seriously that did Democrats in Congress last week.

Yet the growing trail of internal communications suggests a more convoluted and tortured struggle between government officials frustrated by the spread of dangerous falsehoods and company officials who resented and often resisted government entreaties. When Mr. Clegg responded to Dr. Murthy about Facebook’s efforts, he sounded defensive and also frustrated.

Paul M. Barrett, deputy director of the Center for Business and Human Rights at New York University’s Stern School of Business, who has studied the companies’ content moderation policies, said there was “no systematic evidence any place of a broad methodical plot” between the government and the platforms to censor.

On the contrary, social media platforms often appear reluctant to block political content, especially from Republicans, even when it appears to violate their own policies of abusiveness.

“It’s not that they’re going after conservatives,” Mr. Barrett said. “They’re fearing conservative backlash.”